Saturday, September 1, 2012

Musing on Maturity

I have noticed a trend in the culture of my generation that I suspect a lot of people in older generations aren't aware of. Nobody talks about religion or politics.

It seems to me that our culture of "offensensitivity" (a term coined by Berkely Breathed meaning offense at another person's being offended) has trained a generation of people who refuse to face the world around them honestly.

I honestly can't say I really blame them, after so many classes like public speaking or persuasive writing with "banned topics" I'm starting to become afraid to write or speak about polarizing issues. And so we've put yet another nail in the coffin of my generation's maturity. It isn't enough to condition us to random warrantless searches with drug dogs while being locked in classrooms. It isn't enough to condition us to interrogation by school officials who lie to us while acting on the authority of the state in loco parentis without miranda rights or providing us the knowledge or means to contact parents or legal counsel. (Those of you who know me well know why this is part of my rant)
I remember so many orientation sessions and rallies and so on in high school and college where we were all told we were getting older, and now we were expected to start taking on more responsibility, and act like mature adults. But the school administrators who are telling us this turn around and treat us like children and prisoners.

In my high school we weren't allowed to use plastic knives in the cafeteria because they were too dangerous. That's right, high school.
At my college, there was one time somebody pooped in a dryer in the laundry room of a dormitory. Now I wouldn't say that this sounds like mature behavior, and whoever did it was probably drunk, and it was very irresponsible. But what the campus security force did in response to it was equally reprehensible. All the students in every room of the dormitory (including the ones who don't use that room) were either rounded up or woken up at 3 a.m. and forced to stand at attention in the hallways while security interrogated all the students.

I have seen countless ways in which the members of my generation have been treated like prisoners while being told to act like responsible adult citizens. Then I've seen administrators, teachers and parents wondering why our kids are getting worse.

Now they're coming for our speech. My generation is being taught to be so afraid of offending people that they have no courage left to speak about controversial things, and as any student of history, philosophy or theology knows, those are the most important things to talk about!!

You really want kids to grow up and act mature? Tell them to talk about offensive things. Tell them to argue. Tell them to have honest, respectful discussions with each other and their elders. Respect is being willing to say to someone's face: "I think you're wrong, and here's why." Respect is not just letting other people believe whatever they want because it doesn't matter. It does matter, beliefs effect action, and actions effect everyone. If you love someone, you wouldn't let them believe whatever they want to, you would want them to know the truth.

If you are a young person like me, consider this my sign of respect to you:
Suck it up. You can't please everyone, you can't avoid offending someone in this life, it's going to happen. There are millions of people all over the world right now who hate you just because of who you are. They don't even know you, but they want you to die. These people are not allowed to engage in discourse the same way we are in our country today. We have been given the greatest freedom ever enjoyed in the history of mankind: speech, and there are those who want to take that freedom away from us. He who controls our information controls us completely, because they control what we know, and consequently what we think, and consequently what we believe. And as I pointed out earlier, what we believe effects how we behave. Our freedom of speech is also our greatest asset in defending our freedom of speech. You've got to use it, or we're going to lose it.

Now here's my challenge to you:
Next time you see a "speech code" at your college or university, violate it. Blatantly. "If there's one thing a totalitarian government can't tolerate, it's ambiguity."-Penn Jillette
If you get in trouble and they tell you to stop it, violate it louder. Post it online, send it to newspapers and to the press and tell them your freedom of speech is being violated.
Talk to your friends about controversial things. You'll find out really quickly who's really a jerk and who's not, and not because everyone who disagrees with you will stop being your friend. Civilized mature people can have discussions, even arguments (shock and horror) without getting really nasty, without hating each other, and without breaking up friendships. I'm friends with people I disagree with about things, and they know, but that doesn't mean we can't be friends. If anything it makes our friendship stronger because we know that we respect each other in spite of our differences.
Conversely, I've had people who I thought were friends, but as soon as I start talking about things we disagree on they've decided they don't want to be my friend anymore, or even become very hostile and nasty. I affectionately referred to those people as "jerks" a few sentences ago.
Next time you have to give a speech or write a paper for a class and you're told to avoid certain topics because they're too controversial and you might offend someone, consider it a gift. Now you know exactly what to write a paper about. It'll save you a lot of time brainstorming. Maybe you'll get a bad grade, that's true. But personally I would give up every "A" I've ever gotten if I knew that I gave it up in defense of my freedom, and if I knew that I symbolically gave the finger to all the socialists (I consider most teachers to be socialists whether they know it or not) who want to take my freedom away, that's just icing on the cake.

I can hear it now: "But what will my friends think of me? What if my point of view isn't accepted? What if I change my mind because someone offers a better argument? What if I get a bad grade? What if I fail the class? What if I'm expelled? What if my friends turn out to be jerks?"

If you're expelled simply for speaking your mind about something controversial in a respectful way, you should consider it a badge of honor in the fight for freedom. That's the kind of thing I would brag about. If you're worried that your point of view won't be accepted by everyone, maybe it's about time you realized you can't please everyone. If you change your mind because someone else offers a better argument, that's a win! You've learned something and become a better person, and your peers will feel good about themselves for having convinced you of something. And if they don't convince you, you'll become better at defending and reinforcing your point of view, and it may open your mind to other truths you weren't previously aware of. If you get a bad grade, again: badge of honor. If you fail the class: badge of honor.
Finally, if your friends turn out to be jerks and stop being friends with you because they disagree with you, that's a win! You don't really want to be friends with them do you? If anything, I would argue that standing up for your point of view in an intelligent and respectful way is more likely to make you incredibly popular. People are often impressed by and enamored of those who have the courage to challenge authority and stand up for what they believe in, especially when everyone else didn't. It will make you look like a big fish in a small pond.

We can't afford any more conditioning from the socialists, be they schoolteachers, administrators, professors, campus security, parents, friends, family, or the government itself. I often hear public figures and famous orators being remembered as courageous people for speaking about unpopular things or saying things people didn't want to hear or think about at the time. I do not believe this is ultimately true, I think they were driven to speak about those things by their fear. If you believe that speaking the truth is risky, you have not yet realized the far greater risk in remaining silent.

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